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A History of the French Novel, Vol. 1

Which Oisille generally reproves


[Sidenote: Parlamente on human and divine love.]

"Also," said Parlamente, "I have an opinion that never will a man love God perfectly if he has not perfectly loved some of God's creatures in this world." "But what do you call 'perfect loving'?" said Saffredent. "Do you reckon as perfect lovers those who are _transis_,[113] and who adore ladies at a distance, without daring to make their wishes known?" "I call perfect lovers," answered Parlamente, "those who seek in what they love some perfection--be it beauty, kindness, or good grace,--always striving towards virtue; and such as have so high and honourable a heart, that they would not, were they to die for it, take for their object the base things which honour and conscience disapprove: for the soul, which is only created that it may return to its Sovereign Good, does naught while it is in the body but long for the attainment of this. But because the senses by which alone it can acquire information are darkened and made carnal by the sin of our first father, they can only show her the visible things which approach closest to perfection--and after these the soul runs, thinking to find in outward beauty, in visible grace, and in moral virtue, grace, beauty, and virtue in sovereign degree. But when she has sought them and tried them, and finds not in them Him whom she loves, she

leaves them alone,[114] just as a child, according to his age, likes dolls and other trivialities, the prettiest he sees, and thinks a collection of pebbles actual riches, but as he grows up prefers his dolls alive, and gets together the goods necessary for human life. Yet when he knows, by still wider experience, that in earthly things there is neither perfection nor felicity, he desires to seek the Creator and the Source of these. Nevertheless, if God open not the eye of faith in him he would be in danger of becoming, instead of a merely ignorant man, an infidel philosopher.[115] For Faith alone can demonstrate and make receivable the good that the carnal and animal man cannot understand."

This gives the better Renaissance temper perhaps as well as anything to be found, and may, or should in fairness, be set against the worser tone of mere libertinage in which some even of the ladies indulge here, and still more against that savagery which has been noticed above. This undoubtedly was in Milton's mind when he talked of "Lust hard by Hate," and it makes Hircan coolly observe, after a story has been told in which an old woman successfully interferes to save a girl's chastity, that in the place of the hero he should certainly have killed the hag and enjoyed the girl. This is obviously said in no bravado, and not in the least humorously: and the spirit of it is exemplified in divers not in the least incredible anecdotes of Brantome's in the generation immediately following, and of Tallemant des Reaux in the next. The religiosity displayed is of a high temper of Christian Platonism, and we cannot, as we can elsewhere, say what the song says of something else, that "it certainly looks very queer." The knights and ladies do go to mass and vespers; but to say that they go punctually would be altogether erroneous, for Hircan makes wicked jokes on his and Parlamente's being late for the morning office, and, on one occasion at least, they keep the unhappy monks of the convent where they are staying (who do not seem to dare to begin vespers without them) waiting a whole hour while they are finishing not particularly edifying stories. The less complaisant casuists, even of the Roman Church, would certainly look askance at the piety of the distinguished person (said by tradition to have been King Francis himself) who always paid his respects to Our Lady on his way to illegitimate assignations, and found himself the better therefor on one occasion of danger. But the tone of our extract is invariably that of Oisille and Parlamente. The purer love part of the matter is a little, as the French themselves say, "alembicated." But still the whole is graceful and fascinating, except for a few pieces of mere passionless coarseness, which Oisille generally reproves. And it is scarcely necessary to say what large opportunities these tones and colours of fashion and "quality," of passion and manners, give to the future novelist, whose treatment shall stand to them very much as they stand to the shorter and sometimes almost shorthand written tales of Desperiers himself.


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